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Peter Samson - March 31, 1966

25 hours 57 minutes 20 seconds - Passing all Stations

Tests of passenger speed and endurance are no longer recorded or recognized by New York City Transit, but back in 1966 it was a factoid on the back of a New York subway map that inspired MIT student Peter Samson.  He read about a "Flushing Youth" who rode the entire system on a single token and Samson decided to cure spring break boredom by using the computer in the Artificial Intelligence lab to determine the optimal route through the system.

Lacking access to data that is more readily available today, Samson estimated that it would take one minute per station, plus one-half minute per stop, plus five minutes to cross the East River, plus one minute to change platforms, plus five minutes (in the daytime) for a train to come.  He also had a function to find a minimum-transfer path from any station to any other.  At the same time he worked out (by hand) a route based on all the subway lines shown on the map.  His simulation of the route through the system produced a rough estimate of 25 1/2 hours.

A major complication in planning the route was that certain lines only ran at certain hours.  For example, there was a section of line used by the Rockaway Shuttle only between midnight and 4 a.m.  To get these details required visits to the Transit Authority headquarters.  These visits aroused the interest of the TAís public relations people, who spread the word to newspapers and television stations.

At 6:30 a.m. on March 31, 1966, they started off to the Pacific Street station in Brooklyn to commence the run.  Why Pacific Street?  A guy who lived in that neighborhood was supposed to join them there, but he didnít.  Their party was six in number: Samson, George Mitchell, Andy Jennings, Jeff Dwork, Dave Anderson and Dick Gruen.  Gruen kept a log, which started as follows:

There were various embarrassments.  Samson got left behind once and everyone else had to wait at the next transfer point since he had the route map.  Later (after copies of the route were passed around) Mitchell, Anderson, and Jennings got left behind in a menís room; then they got off at the wrong (dead end) platform of the 145th StreetĖLenox Avenue station and had to pay extra fares to come back.

There were gratifying moments too.  TA policemen at South Ferry and at Coney Island asked for our schedules, and were seen radioing them in to HQ.  A New York Post reporter joined them for a while on the A train to 205th Street, getting our candid responses to questions such as "What do you have against the subways?" and "Have you picked up any girls?"  Finally, about half an hour later than the initial prediction, they pulled into a platform at Pelham Bay Park that was jammed full of reporters and cameramen.

Then came a dimly-remembered series of photos and interviews, followed a lunch on the TA and a very long nap.

Wanting to improve on their time, they decided on an entirely computer-directed run.  On April 19, 1967 they made the attempt with George Mitchell and Andy Jennings riding the trains and three persons were at the Data Center at M.I.T. to re-direct the riders based on the progress they were making.  There was also a group of volunteers throughout the city who would convey information to and from the two riders at various points in their trip.  Their plan may have been a little too complex as a series of mishaps including a computer crash resulted in an improvement of only 7 minutes from their attempt one year before.

The publicity they generated by their first run set off an underground craze that made the late 1960s the Golden Age of subway races. Dozens of competitors, mostly groups of adolescent males, tried their geeky best to claim the record.


Scans and content from the Amateur New York Subway Riding Committee